Cable Company Totally Unsure What Neighborhoods It Serves, Wants $117,000 For Broadband Service

from the bungled-and-the-botched dept

Here’s a tip if you’re looking to move or building a new house: get your ISP to write you a letter confirming that they service your new address. While you’re at it, get three copies of it from three different executives, have it notarized, and force the ISP to swear a blood oath, because even then you may find yourself without service at your new address. As we’ve noted a few times, users often assume ISPs actually know what neighborhoods they service, only to later have a Kafka-esque introduction to the U.S. broadband industry’s blistering incompetence and dismal customer service.

The latest example comes via a Wisconsin resident who planned to build a new home on a lot both Frontier Communications and Charter Communcations said they were able to service. To be sure, the user double and triple-checked with Charter before beginning the build process:

“Despite not being in a densely populated area, Marshall said the lot was advertised as “cable-ready.” Before committing to the purchase, Marshall said, ?I looked on Charter?s website, and I typed in the address of the lot, and it said, ?yep, we can service you.?” Just to make sure, Marshall said he looked up the addresses of neighboring homes and got the same answer. Just to make extra sure, Marshall said he called Charter ?and gave them the address, and they said, ?yup we can service that lot.?” Construction on the house began in November 2014 and finished in June.”

The user did everything right short of getting the promise in writing. And guess what? Charter wasn’t able to service that lot. Worse, after admitting error about its own network coverage, the cable operator informed the user it would cost him a whopping $117,000 to provide service:

“”Once my house was built, I called [Charter] to set up service, and that?s when they told me they made a mistake. I was too far away from their network,” Marshall said. In June, a Charter construction coordinator told him he?d have to pay $117,000 to cover all labor, materials, and permitting for a network extension to serve the home. Marshall would have to pay the entire $117,000 up front before Charter would begin construction, and the price would not go down even if other homeowners signed up for service.

The user got the same runaround from Frontier Communications, who originally promised it was able to deliver 24 Mbps to that address, only to later admit it could only provide around 3 Mbps — at best (and which will likely be force-bundled with an expensive legacy voice landline the user won’t want). The kicker is that both of these companies have lobbied to erect state barriers to community broadband, which is often an organic response to this kind of dismal coverage and customer service. So again, this is a market where you’ve got lumbering ISPs with absolutely no incentive to expand or improve service, literally writing state law ensuring that nobody can do anything about it.

Fortunately the FCC has finally started to attack these state laws so communities can improve their own broadband in cases of market failure, but it’s a contentious fight with states busy pretending that it’s their god-given right to erect duopoly-protectionist laws written by AT&T and friends. Meanwhile, our national broadband map, which cost $300 million to build, often doesn’t help matters. Plug your name into the government mapping apparatus, and it will often not only hallucinate broadband providers in your area, but it will utterly fabricate available speeds. That’s because it relies largely on the word of ISPs eager to pretend that the U.S. broadband industry is awash in competition, with much of the data never fact checked.

And good news, everyone! Charter Communications is on the cusp of buying both Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks (in a $79 billion merger), and Frontier is busy gobbling up AT&T and Verizon’s unwanted DSL territories. In other words, there’s a pretty good chance this exact brand of incompetence could be coming to your neighborhood very soon.

So if you’re moving to a new area and an ISP claims they offer broadband, get it in writing. Wander the neighborhood asking neighbors what services they can get. Get sixteen company executives on tape insisting they provide service. Because most U.S. ISPs not only don’t know the physical footprint of their network, it’s abundantly clear they have absolutely no interest in accurate data, customer service, or being accountable for false promises. When you’re the only game in town, you quite frankly don’t have to give a damn. And when you’re the one buying and writing state telecom law, it’s remarkably easy to keep it that way.

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Companies: charter communications, frontier communications

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Comments on “Cable Company Totally Unsure What Neighborhoods It Serves, Wants $117,000 For Broadband Service”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Well there's your problem...

What tripped him up, and he really should have seen it coming, is that he foolishly thought that they wouldn’t lie to him if they thought it would help them and/or they could get away with it.

He foolishly thought that what they told him was the truth, acted accordingly, and was screwed as a result, and is now faced with the prospect of paying an insane amount if he wants his property to have an internet connection.

techflaws (profile) says:

Re: Well there's your problem...

A friend recently got snail mail spam from O2 claiming 100mbit VDSL was now available at their place. After lots of phone calls to them, other ISPs and the city it turned out, they simply spammed the complete neighbourhood cause they couldn’t be bothered to get their mailing list done. There is no VDSL available and there won’t be either.

jsf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Well there's your problem...

AT&T did this with U-verse. We got a bunch of mailings saying it was available. Yeah not so much seeing as they hadn’t even bother deploying DSL to our neighborhood yet.

This was in a near Chicago suburb, in a neighborhood that has been fully built out since the 1980’s. DSL only became available around 2010!

We do have two cable internet options Comcast and WOW.

Violynne (profile) says:

Has anyone read the fine print on Charter’s website?

There’s a little caveat, in 1px font:
“Our services cover the entire state, except when any or all of the following conditions are met:
-The serviceable area is covered by one or more internet service providers

-The serviceable area is locked out due to state or federal restrictions, such as military bases.

-New housing developments, but only after construction is near or has been completed.

-Three kilometers, or less, to a pole servicing a node.

-Customer has a beating heart.

-National parks or recreation areas owned by state or private parties.

-Fourteen steps, due south, of any gas or electrical utility box, not painted green, and within a neighborhood of 1 or more homes.


-Areas with increased risked of severe natural disasters, such as “Tornado Alley”, flood zones, and solar radiation exceeding 12SPF.

We reserve the right to update this list without any notice, because we often do.”

What’s funny about the above “string” attached, it’s still better than Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T combined.

Anonymous Coward says:

"When you're the only game in town" doesn't apply when customer is out of town as here.

If choose to build in the sticks, don’t expect to be subsidized for your entertainments. Try satellite or dial-up.

By the way, except for the “evil” of big-government “socialism” subsidizing rural electrification in the 1940s / 50s, few farms would be able to afford installation even today.

Got 3 comments in before the browser session was somehow poisoned. There is active censorship on this supposedly free-wheeling free speech site.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "When you're the only game in town" doesn't apply when customer is out of town as here.

So I understand your reasoning? It is perfectly fine to back out of an agreement? Also, I never have had a problem commenting on my side. My guess is you were spamming comments so fast that the system has mistaken you for a spam bot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "When you're the only game in town" doesn't apply when customer is out of town as here.

@ Ninja on Oct 2nd, 2015 @ 10:04am

>> Right? Everybody should come to the cities, food will grow itself after all, no?

>> Awesome reasoning there.

??? Are you so lacking in comprehension that believe you’ve made a cogent response there?

Ninja (profile) says:

I’d bet you wouldn’t be able to get a written, signed statement easily. Because that would at least bind them somewhat and they would have to eat the insane cost they are trying to throw towards this customer. Judicially if needed. They are smarter than you paint them, they will not do anything that binds them judicially later. Unless, of course, there are laws that let them get away with it (are there?).

Anonymous Coward says:

For a short while, I worked peddling Verizon’s internet door-to-door.

There were several times that, upon somehow convincing someone to buy internet from a stranger, I wouldn’t be able to get the person actually signed up.

I’d double check the address, double check my list of available addresses, everything, only to call in and be told that this one house isn’t in the service area (despite both neighbors currently being customers). They also have no idea when it will be in the area. But, I was assured, it will be eventually, why would it be on the list otherwise?

Somehow, I doubt those people ever got Verizon.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Yes, that is the correct interpretation of that sentence. I never once felt like I was telling the truth, even if it was factually true information. I was even trying to come up with something that may have been untrue, but I can’t think of any.

My job depended on people believing that they were somehow getting something good. So, I guess that was the general lie that I told, even if the details were, technically, true.

Lastly, if it helps your opinion of me at all, I was lied to also with phrases like “we’ll pay you”.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

You think that’s bad? I spent a month in a cable telemarketing center trying to sell the Disney Channel. Even worse, they were only allowing us to call people who had been disconnected for non-payment of service. So we were expected to talk someone into paying their bill, getting reconnected, and then buying the Disney Channel on top of all that. I think back on that month as “my month in hell”. Being a CABLE company, there was NO truth in anything they wanted us to say… other than eventually they’d be billed for the Disney Channel.

Anonymous Coward says:

I actually had a similar issue before. When we first moved into this house from the one not too far from here we had AT&T in our old place. The bandwidth at our old place was like 6MB/sec and when we moved here they said they served our area with that. But when we installed it we didn’t get anywhere near that, I think we struggled just to get 3 Mb/sec (that was back when this was fast), it disconnected often, and AT&T said it’s due to the line conditions at our house. Different customer service representatives gave us different messages. Some reps said AT&T doesn’t serve our area with 6Mb/sec speeds at all. One rep told us they would charge us a few hundred dollars to install a new line that maybe better but even then they couldn’t guarantee it would give us better speeds. We eventually switched to Time Warner cable. Yes, it’s expensive, but at least it’s a lot more reliable. At the time when we switched the speeds were 15 Mb/sec (though now it’s technically up to 100 Mb/sec but I benchmark at most at ~50 Mb/sec but practically I can consistently download for prolonged periods at like 20 Mb/sec but I’m not complaining, it’s plenty fast for what I need). Then, a few months after we switched AT&T called us and offered us a 6 Mb/sec connection, offered us to fix our line problem (by installing a new line if necessary) and assured us it would be fixed and reliable without disconnecting us and reliably give us the 6Mb/sec speeds. We figured it wasn’t worth the hassle and were happy with Time Warner (though not so much the price) and kept it. AT&T essentially lost a long term DSL customer (we have been with them for many years before that in our old place) because of their poor customer service at our new place and, once we switched from one company to another and are happy with their service unless there is a good reason to switch back it’s not worth the hassle. Lesson learned for AT&T, it’s much easier to keep an existing customer than it is to gain a new customer or to get back a customer once you lost them.

Anonymous Coward says:

ISPs get it wrong the other way to

The ISPs get their maps wrong the other way to, insisting they can’t sell you services that ARE available in your area.

At the business I work at, our next door neighbor is a dental business, and they had Verizon FIOS. We could see FIOS boxes outside of some of our windows. Yet Verizon kept insisting FIOS wasn’t available in our area when we contacted them to purchase it. We had to get them to send out a technician just to prove to them that FIOS was available in our area.

When we expanded and moved to a bigger office building a few blocks down we had to go through the exact same mess 2 years later.

And then a year after that, we got a knock on our door one day by a Verizon Salesman, trying to sell us the Verizon FIOS we already had. Apparently they finally thought it had ‘just’ been installed in the area.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: ISPs get it wrong the other way to

“The ISPs get their maps wrong the other way to, insisting they can’t sell you services that ARE available in your area.”

I had this happen to me once. I wanted DSL, but the phone company said that I was too far from the post. I then learned that my neighbor had DSL despite being one lot further from the post as me.

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Re: ISPs get it wrong the other way to

This happened to me too. I caught an AT&T technician at the box and asked him about it. He showed me that the DSL terminal was full and my one account wouldn’t pay for the installation for 10+ years.

Back then, the technician told me that I could go with a competitor for a fixed fee and they would HAVE to install the extra DSL hub, so I did that.

Then all of a sudden, AT&T calls me saying they have service at my address now and they can hook me up. Like a stupid fool, I went with AT&T (because it was $10/month cheaper). We had billing problems every month for 18 months straight! My poor wife spent an hour a month on the phone with AT&T for a year and a half!

Finally Adelphia showed up with cable modem and they got bought by Time Warner and it has always been great.

Now, I’m just hoping that Charter doesn’t screw it up. First Comcast and now this.

DB (profile) says:

You can be certain that it doesn’t actually cost $117K to extend service to the house.

Yes, I’m certain that if they needed to come up with justification for that number, a whole bunch of expenses could be allocated to that work order.

The reality is that either they want the residents to pay for their CapEx, or they are looking for future government subsidies to underwrite it in some way. Perhaps an increase in rates, an outright grant, or an expansion in exclusive territory.

Teamchaos (profile) says:

No company is free from incompetent help providing bad advice and I feel for the homeowner who got screwed.

However, if you’re in the service area, Charter delivers damn fine internet service. They’ve always provided more bandwidth than I was paying for and upgraded me to 100Mbs for free. Their customer service is generally excellent (sales people apparently not so excellent).

Their TV service sucks, but their internet is top notch.

F.J. Bergmann (profile) says:

Wisconsin Charter

We bought a house in Wisconsin in 2003. Because I was self-employed as a web designer, broadband availability was a paramount concern. Charter assured us that DSL was available at the location of the house we ended up buying. It wasn’t. We paid through the nose for inadequate connections for years. Even more infuriatingly, we got frequent junk mail offering high-speed internet–at over $100 a MONTH less than what we were paying–but every time we called, it was “still unavailable.” Finally, this spring I checked again, after the latest junk mailing … and they said it was available now … only to tell my husband, when he called to authorize it, as the account holder, that no, it wasn’t. He decided to try signing up online anyway, just in case–and it went through. No telling at what point DSL might have actually been available to us–Charter has no idea what it’s doing. The frosting on the cake was when we had some initial problems with the modem (as it turned out, because the installers left the old modem hooked up as well), and I waited all afternoon for a tech who kept calling for directions. Turns out because he was in Arkansas, not Wisconsin. Bravo, Charter!

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